From April 2017 all businesses will be assessed to see if their wage bill is high enough to pay a new form of tax called the apprenticeship levy. This will only become payable if the wage bill exceeds £3M or £250,000 in a given month. The idea behind this scheme is that all subscribing employers and in due course all employers will utilise a new service to obtain training for their workers. The extra revenue provided through this scheme will be used to fund an additional level of training capacity that should in theory be better suited to the needs of businesses. Taking the old adage that the people paying the piper get to decide on the tune or its more modern jukebox equivalent, suggests that the funders of this scheme will be able to influence the nature of it. This of course can carry risks as we have seen from the way Donald Trump carries out his business activities and no doubt there are some equally unsavoury business leaders in the UK. Unfortunately with Government schemes the separation between taxpayers and the work the Government commissions can be so extreme that people lose confidence in the way the Government operates and we end up with people like Donald Trump in the Whitehouse and the threat of Nigel Farage in our Embassy. There are times when the Government should pay particular attention to those who will be expected to fund their ideas.
On Thursday in the House of Commons there was a debate that focused on some of the detail of the new Apprenticeship scheme. It revealed that in order to deal with this new training requirement that a new agency will be set up, called the Institute of Apprenticeships. It is intended that this will be a Government agency, but be what is referred to as an Arms Length body so that it is not under the complete control of the Government. It is intended that the agency will set standards for the type of training on offer. It will employ around 60 people in its first year and one of those debating the issue on Thursday was arguing that those 60 people must not all be lifetime civil servants, but rather people drawn from educational backgrounds. I agree that we need people in the mix who are used to delivering training packages, but we also need a lot of input from business so that the packages do provide the type of training that is needed, not simply what is easy to administer or easy to train.
A further issue was discussed that related to the type of training that is required. A piece of research by Lord Sainsbury has concluded that 15 specific types of apprenticeship are needed. Yet there those who believe that not all of these 15 areas are needed, and others that all of the 15 miss out some substantial areas. The Company that I am part of is constantly frustrated that whilst we wish to recruit new members of staff, and indeed find training for our existing younger members of the team, that the type of apprenticeships and training schemes on offer are not suitable for our needs. Our engineers need skills that are taught in a range of apprenticeships and training courses. However we need a mix of these and to send people on every relevant course would take a lifetime. What we are looking for is a lighter touch approach where each of the disciplines can be taught at a level that ensures that people who do not need to build or wire up buildings can still learn some fundemental elements of both of those trades. The same is true of the need for some basic IT skills and understanding of Physics, even though our engineers will only need these for occasional applications. I don’t expect MPs and even Civil Servants to know this instinctively, even though it is our engineering discipline that ensures that their words are heard during their debates. However they do need to listen to us rather than carry on blithely with the idea that all of the wisdom is contained either in Parliament or even within the business networks that they meet with who all to often don’t include representation from our industry amongst many others.